Latest release: Hegemony (Napalm)Website: www.samael.info
The death of Celtic Frost bassist Martin E Ain on October 21 this year came as a mighty shock to fans and admirers from around the world but to none moreso, naturally, than friends and those who knew him in Switzerland. Michael “Vorph” Locher of Samael, who had occasion to work closely with Ain over the course of their career, admits that the news of his passing was a surprise, and pays tribute to the musician and industry figure who helped Samael get a leg up in their formative years.
“The first time I met him was in 87,” he begins. “He had a music shop in Zurich and we went there to see Slayer. There were touring on Reign in Blood, and just before the show we went into his shop and we had a little talk with him and he was very nice to us. He actually signed my jacket because I was a big fan.”
A few years later, Vorph and brother Xy (Alexandre Locher) – then using the rather more contrived pseudonyms Vorpholack and Xytraguptor – sought Ain out for help with their debut, the Hellhammer/Bathory-inspired Worship Him.
“We somehow asked him if he wanted to produce it,” Vorph says, “but he said it wasn’t his thing. Instead he said he would look over the lyrics, because we are from the French part of Switzerland and didn’t have English good enough to do the lyrics correctly. So he offered to have a look at them, because his mother was American and he could speak English fluently. He even booked a show for us years later when the Ceremony of Opposites album came out. They have a convention called the Lucifer Rising Convention in Zurich and he was the guy that booked some of the bands.”
It is perhaps unsurprising that a founding member of Switzerland’s most important metal band would be there to help the fortunes of one of his country’s other significant extreme acts. Vorph is eternally grateful to the assistance he gave them as a young band.
“We would see him now and again,” he says, “but it had been a long time since I had the chance to speak to him.”
Ain has now sadly moved on from this mortal coil, and Samael has moved on a long way from the primitive black metal of Worship Him. Hegemony, the band’s 11th album, shows them experimenting further in the electronic and industrial metal vein they have travelled in now since 1996’s flawless Passage. It comes a staggering six years after the highly-acclaimed Lux Mundi. According to Vorph, the delay had a lot to do with brother Xy being commissioned to write the music for a major local event in their home town of Sion.
“Most of the songs were already done in 2013 and it was almost ready to be recorded and then Xy got an offer from the city we come from to play at this castle,” Vorph explains. “Every year they have a show at the castle with lights and music, and they asked him to do the music. And I suppose it took him over a year to do that, to compose the music, to record the music, and it was the first time he had a chance to record with a full orchestra which was a dream for him so we all supported him in this decision.”
Going back to the songs they had for Hegemony, the band treated them like brand new material and reworked everything, making “every update for every song that we could envision”, Vorph says. “That gave every song a chance to mature and go where it’s supposed to be.” For this part, he was already happy with the songs. Xy, on the other hand, wanted to tinker with them even more.
“We finished recording and then Xy started to redo some little details here and there and if we didn’t have a time booked for the mix I’m sure he would have gone further into it, and there’s a moment when you should say, ‘Ok, we have it.’ I don’t normally spend that much time on it. Xy’s the one who is crazy about details and stuff.”
Musically, Vorph sees Hegemony as the logical extension of where they left off with Lux Mundi.
“[On] Lux Mundi we tried to connect everything that we have done with Samael. We’ve done a lot of experimentation throughout the years and I think we wanted to have an album which went to the core of our music somehow, and that we could present and say, ‘This is what we are’. That’s what we did with Lux Mundi. This one is pretty much built on that foundation. It’s the next level or the next step, whatever you want to call it, but it’s built on the previous album and it shows our intention to move forward.”
By far the most interesting inclusion on the latest album is a cover of “Helter Skelter” that the band have rendered as a heavy, sinister industrial march. Slotted it at the end of the track listing, it fits remarkably well into the album’s overall atmosphere of rebellion and upheaval. While Vorph says the Beatles were more of an influence on the acts that he admired and grew up with more than on himself, “they were such a huge and important band”.
“That song in particularly has everything that we love in music today,” he goes on. “It’s like a progenitor of the heavy metal song. Also for the industry at the time, it was very dissonant and very dangerous for the time it came out. It was something totally different from anything the Beatles had done in their career, so we tried to cover that song and appropriate it to our style, turn it into a Samael song as much as we could without betraying the original.”
Even though Vorph is careful to point out that Hegemony is not a concept album – “We’ve never done those”, he says – it’s clear that several of the songs at least hint at current real world concerns, “Red Planet”, “This World” and the title track among them. There’s also “Black Supremacy”, which seems to have been cleverly written to suggest a racial context rather than an exploration of occult beliefs. Vorph puts this all down to the constant barrage of news and information it is now so hard to cut oneself off from.
“This is the first time we have done an album that is really connected to the zeitgeist, to the moment,” the singer says. “One of the reasons is probably because the information is there all the time. You are no longer able to disconnect yourself and create an album that is not affected by anything that goes around you. I don’t know if that’s good or not, but it’s a fact.”